In the presentation:
01:53 – Starting from a low point
04:35 – The fundamental problems of small agencies
06:57 – Bootstrapping a high-growth business
10:02 – Set your goals higher
11:47 – An exact definition of a startup
13:04 – What startups should do
14:55 – Conversational brand names
17:03 – Impeccable product execution
17:38 – What startups don’t do
18:24 – No less than world-class designs
19:56 – You can’t do it alone
20:45 – How to say NO
Get Part 2 of this video inside SuperFastBusiness membership area where I can help you grow your business
James: Now in contrast to an 8-figure business, what about if you’re starting from scratch? What if you’ve got nothing, or you’re at the very, very foothills? That’s why I’ve deliberately put our next guest, Dan Norris, up now, because we’ve covered the whole crowd here. If you feel 8-figures is beyond your scope, then this should be a very encouraging presentation.
I first found out about Dan when he actually promoted my Traffic Grab product, not as an affiliate, which was kind of unusual at the time. Most people promote things because they’re going to get a commission. It really was the start of what became the end result of me stopping my affiliate program. The fact that I could make a product that was good enough that someone would talk about because they thought it was a good product was really profound, and through constant observation of Dan’s approach, I think he’s very instructive in the zag while everyone’s zigging, and I think you’re going to really enjoy what he’s created. So I’d like to welcome up Dan, thank you for coming along.
Dan: Thanks man, thank you very much.
James: Have fun.
Dan: Hi, everybody, thanks for having me. So today I’m going to be talking about going from being an Internet marketer to a startup founder. And I’m hopeful that the people in this room are as obsessed as I am about startups, and I had become extremely obsessed about the startup world, and if you’re not then I think you’re going to learn things here that you’re not going to learn anywhere. It’s the first time I’ve given this talk or I’ve put out this content.
So I’m going to be doing it through a combination of my own story, a story of absolute failure, and then also creating the kind of business that maybe some people in this room want to create and certainly the kind of business that I dreamt of creating. And I’m going to be delivering 10 things that I’ve picked up from the startup world that I think you guys can include in your business.
The lowest point in 9 years
So that’s me in 2013, that’s 18 months ago. I wasn’t homeless, despite all evidence to the contrary. But it was the low point in a 9-year entrepreneurial journey. I’d spent the last year creating what I thought was going to be my startup, and I got within 2 weeks of completely running out of money. I’d sold my last company which was my safety net.
I was spending about $2,000 a month to just keep it going, and I had a team of people, I actually had to let one guy go to Jake Hower, which was the most painful thing. You don’t want to give Jake anything. Just kidding. Yeah, I gave him my website. There’s more on that later.
But the worst thing was I started feeling like I wasn’t an entrepreneur, and even through the 7 years prior to that where things weren’t going that well, I still felt like I was an entrepreneur, but I lost that feeling, and it was like I really questioned whether I was an entrepreneur. And what made it worse was I had kids and they were kind of starting to be at the age where they were interested in “Who is daddy and what does he do?” Back then I couldn’t tell them what I did. I was just a failure.
I want to go back a little bit before that. This is my wage as an employee. I’m completely obsessed with line charts. There’s about 20 line charts in this presentation. I like line charts that look like this, and my line chart for my wage didn’t look like this for a long time after I stopped being an employee. This is the only time I ever worked for someone else, for 4 years. It was quite good, I had a boss that was nowhere near as hard as I was when I worked for myself, in fact he was never there, didn’t know what I did. I worked for the government.
And it kept going up, which was nice, too. And it was a reasonable wage, by the end. But unfortunately, as you see, it ends in 2006, and if you don’t get anything out of this presentation, then you can get this: If you want to start a Web design business, don’t leave a 60-grand income and then the next day buy a book on how to design websites.
I think there’s two themes, and I’m really happy to see the themes that have come out of the presentation. I’m actually blown away by the presentations today, like the general themes that are coming out of those sessions, and to me the idea of mindset and what you’re thinking at the time of creating your business has been really important to me. And what I was thinking in 2006 was, how do I replace my wage? And that changed dramatically 6 years later, and the results are dramatic.
A rough start
That’s what happened, in the middle, is what happened. The first bit at the start, the nice bit, that was me as an employee, the massive cliff is when I started my business. But the worst thing about that is for the next 7 years, the business didn’t grow. The business was creating websites for people, and every year I was running my business I felt like it was going OK, like I kind of felt like, OK revenue’s going up, I’ve got an office, I was like going to the next step, I got an office, I got a phone system – I’ve got a phone system and a server! – and I threw it out like a year later.
But I was doing those things that I thought you do as a business to grow. And revenue was going up. My profit was not going up because it was not a profitable business, and I just didn’t realize it. Because I did everything. And I think a lot of those sort of small agencies have all of these fundamental problems, things like you’re not differentiating, you’re really struggling to compete.
I was doing like $2,000 websites. I tried doing big projects as much as like 30 grand, thinking that would be better. But they were like more on me, so I couldn’t scale that. I tried doing smaller projects, down as small as $10 a month for hosting, because I thought I could scale that, but then the margin wasn’t there and there was too much competition. I tried everything you can imagine to fix this agency, all the way down to buying a website for $15,000 that ranked well in Google, buying 200, 300 domains to try and get individual keyword rankings for all those domains, who’s done that?
And then even buying another agency for 45 grand, that was supposed to be like 45 grand profit on top of mine, and it just didn’t, it just added 45 grand of expenses. The fundamentals were just wrong. And the most dramatic thing I did is the end of that chart, which is obviously, I stopped. And I got to a point where I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. So I sold it, for not much, but for enough to give me a year to work on something else.
So that’s an example of the monthly revenue chart, and I do like line charts, but I don’t like line charts that look like that.
So 2012, I’d at least been able to run a business for 7 years, which I think is more than a lot of people. I was sort of like scraping through and able to replace my wage. And I live on the Gold Coast and I had a good lifestyle. That was like, I’d achieved that at least, and I knew I didn’t want that, because I’d completely given up on that.
A new challenge
So this time around, I obsessed over a different challenge. And that challenge was how do I bootstrap a high-growth startup. And that had two components. One is bootstrap, which means self-fund, and the reason I wanted to self-fund was because no one would give me any money. And if you don’t have a huge track record, or if you don’t have co-founders, or if you’re not part of an incubator, then no one’s going to give you money either, unless you know rich people. If you want to join SilverCircle you probably will.
But I actually even applied for incubators. I applied to Star Made In Sydney twice, best incubator in Australia, they rejected me twice, and they didn’t even tell me. They didn’t even tell me they rejected me, but I know they did, because I didn’t go.
And so I became obsessed with this. The first attempt was an analytics dashboard called Informly. It was called Web Control Room and as I learned more about startups, I’ve learned that Web Control Room was a shi*** name. And this was the year before 2013. And that’s what happened.
That’s my wage going down to zero, and the only reason it doesn’t go below zero is because the chart just looks so embarrassing I just stopped at zero. And that brings me to 2013 when I was two weeks away from having to get a job.
The attempt that succeeded
The second attempt was launching WP Curve and at that time I had no choice. I couldn’t do software, because you can’t build software in 2 weeks unless you’re very, very clever, much cleverer than I am, and I even looked, in my book I wrote about people who started businesses in 7 days, and I could only find one or two examples of people who did that with software companies, they’re very, very challenging. I’ll talk about that more later.
But I launched a WordPress services business called WP Curve, which gives you unlimited WordPress jobs on your website for a subscription of, at the time it was like $50 a month or something.